Fix the judicial system

It turns out that at least in Case 4000, there are very problematic relations between the judge running the proceedings and the prosecutor representing the Israel Securities Authority.

By
February 27, 2018 21:36
Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovich and Tel Aviv Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz

Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovich and Tel Aviv Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ISRAELI JUSTICE MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

In recent days the public has been exposed to the underbelly of our judicial system, and it is not a pretty sight.

It turns out that at least in Case 4000, which deals with allegations of wrongdoings at Bezeq and the news site Walla!, there are very problematic relations between the judge running the proceedings and the prosecutor representing the Israel Securities Authority.

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A Channel 10 News report caught Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz exchanging WhatsApp messages with the authority’s prosecutor Eran Shaham-Shavit, in which the two decided between them how long the judge would order suspects held in pre-trial detention.

In pre-trial hearings, the two discussed the matter in a jocular fashion. Shaham-Shavit asked Poznanski-Katz to feign surprise when he recommends in the presence of all parties the predetermined number of days of detainment, to which Poznanski-Katz agreed. Shaham-Shavit also joked with Poznanski-Katz about how police from investigative unit Lahav 443 were angry at him for planning to ask for shortened remand custody.

This is the second incident in two weeks that paints the judicial system in a bad light. Last week we learned that in 2015, ex-judge Hila Gerstl was offered the job of attorney-general in a shady deal in which in exchange for the appointment she would agree to close criminal probes against Sara Netanyahu. Inexplicably, Gerstl never bothered to report the offer to the police. Nor did Supreme Court justice Esther Hayut, who now serves as president of that court. Why would experienced judges whose
mandate is to uphold truth and justice, allow such a criminal offer to go without investigation?

Former Supreme Court justice Eliahu Matza said the behavior of the judges was inexcusable, but he urged the public to view the Gerstl and Poznanski-Katz revelations as isolated incidents, as rotten apples that do not represent the judicial system.

It is difficult, however, not to believe that Poznanski-Katz’s and Shaham-Shavit’s behavior is indicative of a wider phenomenon in which prosecutors and judges maintain close, informal relations that ultimately lead to distortions that work against criminal suspects, even if they are rich and well connected. The WhatsApp correspondence between the two should have taken place openly in the presence of all parties, including the police, the defense and the suspects. The idea that a judge and a prosecutor can coordinate between themselves secretly undermines the very notion of judicial impartiality and general criminal procedural law.

No less worrying is the tone of the conversation. Though the two are discussing the length of detainment of a suspect, they have no qualms joking about it. When deliberating whether or not to deny a person his or her liberty, the discussion should be conducted with care and dignity, not frivolity. It concerns the curtailing of the basic human right to freedom of movement, which should be sacrosanct in a democracy. Holding suspects in custody is no light matter. It can be traumatic for the persons detained and their loved ones.

A thorough investigation into the relations between prosecutors and judges is in order. But recent incidents must not deteriorate into a full-throated attack on the judicial system. Democracy is impossible without trust in democratic institutions. Steps should be taken to rehabilitate the judicial system by reprimanding Poznanski-Katz and Shaham-Shavit and making it clear that their behavior is unacceptable.

And we should also recall that serious allegations have been leveled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by police. He is accused of ordering top aide Shlomo Filber – whom he installed as director-general of the Communications Ministry – to make policy rulings in favor of the Bezeq telecommunications giant to the detriment of the public, who continued to pay too much for telephone services. And he did this, according to police allegations, in exchange for positive news coverage from the news site Walla!

But it is legitimate to ask what is going on with the judicial system. If the freedom of powerful figures such as the ones involved in Case 4000 is compromised, we can only imagine what happens when suspects are without financial means or influence.
In recent days the public has been exposed to the underbelly of our judicial system, and it is not a pretty sight.

It turns out that at least in Case 4000, which deals with allegations of wrongdoings at Bezeq and the news site Walla!, there are very problematic relations between the judge running the proceedings and the prosecutor representing the Israel Securities Authority.

A Channel 10 News report caught Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz exchanging WhatsApp messages with the authority’s prosecutor Eran Shaham-Shavit, in which the two decided between them how long the judge would order suspects held in pre-trial detention.

In pre-trial hearings, the two discussed the matter in a jocular fashion. Shaham-Shavit asked Poznanski-Katz to feign surprise when he recommends in the presence of all parties the predetermined number of days of detainment, to which Poznanski-Katz agreed. Shaham-Shavit also joked with Poznanski-Katz about how police from investigative unit Lahav 443 were angry at him for planning to ask for shortened remand custody.

This is the second incident in two weeks that paints the judicial system in a bad light. Last week we learned that in 2015, ex-judge Hila Gerstl was offered the job of attorney-general in a shady deal in which in exchange for the appointment she would agree to close criminal probes against Sara Netanyahu. Inexplicably, Gerstl never bothered to report the offer to the police. Nor did Supreme Court justice Esther Hayut, who now serves as president of that court. Why would experienced judges whose mandate is to uphold truth and justice, allow such a criminal offer to go without investigation?

Former Supreme Court justice Eliahu Matza said the behavior of the judges was inexcusable, but he urged the public to view the Gerstl and Poznanski-Katz revelations as isolated incidents, as rotten apples that do not represent the judicial system.

It is difficult, however, not to believe that Poznanski-Katz’s and Shaham-Shavit’s behavior is indicative of a wider phenomenon in which prosecutors and judges maintain close, informal relations that ultimately lead to distortions that work against criminal suspects, even if they are rich and well connected. The WhatsApp correspondence between the two should have taken place openly in the presence of all parties, including the police, the defense and the suspects. The idea that a judge and a prosecutor can coordinate between themselves secretly undermines the very notion of judicial impartiality and general criminal procedural law.

No less worrying is the tone of the conversation. Though the two are discussing the length of detainment of a suspect, they have no qualms joking about it. When deliberating whether or not to deny a person his or her liberty, the discussion should be conducted with care and dignity, not frivolity. It concerns the curtailing of the basic human right to freedom of movement, which should be sacrosanct in a democracy. Holding suspects in custody is no light matter. It can be traumatic for the persons detained and their loved ones.

A thorough investigation into the relations between prosecutors and judges is in order. But recent incidents must not deteriorate into a full-throated attack on the judicial system. Democracy is impossible without trust in democratic institutions. Steps should be taken to rehabilitate the judicial system by reprimanding Poznanski-Katz and Shaham-Shavit and making it clear that their behavior is unacceptable.

And we should also recall that serious allegations have been leveled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by police. He is accused of ordering top aide Shlomo Filber – whom he installed as director-general of the Communications Ministry – to make policy rulings in favor of the Bezeq telecommunications giant to the detriment of the public, who continued to pay too much for telephone services. And he did this, according to police allegations, in exchange for positive news coverage from the news site Walla!

But it is legitimate to ask what is going on with the judicial system. If the freedom of powerful figures such as the ones involved in Case 4000 is compromised, we can only imagine what happens when suspects are without financial means or influence.


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